Hidden away in Quebec, lies a 20-acre estate housing one of the most renowned gardens in the world: Les Jardins de Quatre-Vents. For several decades, the garden was tended to by Francis Cabot, who passed away in 2011. Directed by Sébastien Chabot, this documentary, The Gardener, ambles through Les Jardins de Quatre-Vents, capturing the foliage in pristine and colourful HD.
Having been interviewed just before his passing, Cabot, alongside friends and family, is on hand to provide a sort of running commentary about the time and decision making that went into his creation. Cabot tended to his garden like Willy Wonka tackled chocolate; planting – excuse the pun – musical statues, mirrors, secret doors and hidden stone wolves in hideaway places. Cheeky little embellishments which somewhat burst the pomposity within the ornate greenery.
And let’s be honest here, as we make our way around his grounds, it’s clear that Cabot’s tale is hardly one of rags to riches. No, Cabot came from good stock and his garden is a sought-after excursion which is closed off from the public for a large part of the year. Whilst all but one of the talking heads that feature in The Gardener fail to mention it, a lot of money was pumped into what we see. You don’t get an ornate Japanese tea house built in the traditional manner with less than $5 in your pocket.
As a result, The Gardener could come across as an act of bragging. Yet, somehow, it just about manages to skirt this issue. What it gives us instead is access to the imagination of a man who, like any other creative person, worked tirelessly to achieve his ends. You can see it in every crisp new shot that Chabot doles out to us. Alongside the piano accompaniment, quite honestly, this is the cinematic equivalent of a relaxation tape and it’s all the better for it.
Whilst it might not do much narratively speaking, The Gardener is a summer treat for the eyes at the very least.